The value of Cannes

Despite the fact that I’ve written 1,479 posts about awards, I now feel the need to curl out another one.

That’s because there have been a few recent developments on that front:

Wieden and Kennedy recently floated the idea of skipping awards.

Publicis have decided to give all of next year’s awards a miss.

WPP are considering not going to next year’s Cannes.

There seem to be different reasons for this: W&K wanted to find different ways to recognise creative excellence, including running full page ads thanking/congratulating teams responsible for good work.

Publicis want to spend the awards money on turning themselves into a ‘platform’. Here’s an explanation: Some of the key features of this AI-powered professional assistant include the ability for employees to apply to work on projects across the globe, an idea derived from a global talent survey that Publicis conducted roughly eight months ago. One major insight from the survey was that many of the youngest employees wanted access to projects all over the world. “It might be a copywriter in the Philippines, but who says they won’t be the one that’s going to crack that Tide brief in New York for the Super Bowl,” Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Communications, said.

Here’s a rather awkward film with some people explaining what it’s supposed to be:

And WPP think Cannes is ‘too costly, too scattered and should return to its roots of solely promoting agencies’ creativity.’ Apparently they’re a bit pissed off with the increased significance of Facebook and Google in the South of France.

So three reasons to give Cannes/awards a swerve.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons:

W&K’s heart seemed to be in the right place. They want to recognise creatives, just in a way that might be better than the flawed method that is the expensive, ultimately meaningless crapshoot called ‘awards’. But when they asked their staff there was widespread antipathy. It seemed to the younger creatives that the senior ones who had made their name/fame/career on awards were pulling up the ladder. Would these alternative methods work? hard to say. Do awards work? They seem to.

So they changed their mind:

Since backing off the idea more than a year ago, W+K has continued looking for internal ways to supplement the role that award shows play in the industry. Doing so also helps the agency stay focused on finding new ways to keep its staffers loyal and engaged.

“There’s a lot of talk about millennial employee retention: ‘Do you want to take your dog to work?’ ‘Do you want a skate park and yoga?’,” (Joint CCO Collen) DeCourcy said. “These people want to be known. They want to be famous. They work hard enough, so they deserve it. So we were trying to figure that out, and quite frankly, we still are.”

Hmmm… There’s a lot of stuff in there. Is taking your dog to work (a very common thing here in LA) or having a skate park (really?) supposed to equate perk-wise to being able to enter awards? And is a person’s wish to be ‘famous’ a valid reason for their place of employment to shape things around such a wish? Apparently ‘They work hard enough, so they deserve it’.

Do they? Not to be deliberately obtuse but if hard work led to fame my cleaner would be on the front of every paper in the country. Which leads me to question this entire chain of logic: why do creatives deserve fame or notoriety for the ads they create? Why are awards the only real driver of such fame? Why is effectiveness seen as a poor cousin to ‘creativity’? Why aren’t we arguing that testimonials from satisfied clients or sales increases should be the justification for fame, promotions and raises? I’m not saying any of those things are good or bad, but sometimes we seem to accept certain situations without giving due consideration to the alternatives.

Which leads us (kind of) to the Publicis thing. There’s a lot of chat about improving creativity in the above link, but will Marcel do that? No idea. It’s a step into uncharted territory. And I suppose that’s a good thing, considering how much we generally lament people who always choose to stick with the same path.

On the other side, this is apparently a financial decision, with award entry cash being redirected towards Marcel. So there’s no ideological strategy underpinning this move; it’s merely a case of not having the cash to enter awards and set up Marcel, so they took their reddies from the award pile and gave it to the innovation pile. But is it really that expensive to set this thing up? Publicis’s Cannes entries/attendance alone was apparently over twenty million Euros. If Marcel costs that much I have a bridge I’d like to sell to the Publicis top brass. This seems like a convenient excuse to rob Peter to pay Paul. Tough titty, Publicis/Saatchis/Leo Burnett creatives.

…Leading us to WPP and Mr. Sorrell. He’s threatening, in a somewhat terrifying manner, to pull out of Cannes:

“If we would be starting the concept again today, what would we do differently?” he added, saying he would prefer it if the conference took place in another city and at another time.

Really? That’s all he could come up with? A new date and location? How would that solve anything? And, by the way, he said exactly the same thing last year.

Look, I’ve slagged him off a bit in the past, but I have an open mind to this guy who can’t really be as underwhelming as he seems and still earn £210m. So come on, Martin, think of a good reason to blow Cannes off, or simply come clean that you’re shitting yourself at the prospect of Facebook and Google eating your lunch in the near future. We won’t think any less of you. Maybe.

So there we are. A bit of a mixed bag, the upshot of which is that Cannes will certainly be enjoying the investment of W&K and WPP next year, and tonnes of MUCH BETTER WORK from Publicis in 2019.